LONDON (Sep. 1)
With new weapons continuing to flow into the Middle East, mainly from Western nations, advanced aircraft, tanks and missiles, including battlefield surface-to-surface rockets, are now commonplace in the region.
The extent of the build-up emerges in a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “The Military Balance 1977-1978.” It shows that virtually every Middle East country signed a major arms agreement in the course of the 1976 and the beginning of 1977.
In two separate deals, Egypt is buying from France unspecified quantities of Crotale surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and two Agosta-class submarines. The SAMs are due to be delivered this year. Syria’s arms agreements were with Austria, France and Italy. Austria is selling her 2000 trucks; France, 2000 Milan anti-tank guided weapons and a quantity of Gazelle helicopters; Italy is supplying six helicopters. Jordan will receive 14 batteries of improved Hawk SAMs from the United States as well as 100 Vulcan anti-aircraft guns.
Israel’s six arms deals, all with the United States, were for 125 medium tanks, guns, self-propelled guns, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, as well as 700 armored personnel carriers and 200 Tow antitank missiles.
Saudi Arabia will receive from the United States 2000 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, six batteries of improved Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and 400 Maverick missiles. Britain agreed to sell her II Strikemaster training aircraft.
Iran contracted the biggest number of separate arms deals in the year under review–no less than 12–with Britain supplying Rapier SAMs and Scorpion tanks; Italy, helicopters; and the United States a wide range of missiles, aircraft and helicopters.
ARRAY OF MILITARY HARDWARE
A separate section of the report shows the array of forces which Middle East countries deploy. Israel’s medium tank force had reached 3000, compared with 2700 last year. They include 1000 Centurion tanks, 650 American-made tanks, as well as converted Soviet tanks and Israeli-developed Chariots. But there was only a slight increase in the number of combat aircraft–now put at 549.
Syria, which has doubled the size of her armed forces to 227, 500 men in the past five years, has also increased her number of tanks to 2600, compared with 2000 in 1975. The Syrian navy has also taken possession of two Petya class frigates. No significant change was shown in her air force but some aircraft are believed to be in storage.
Egypt’s arsenal, hampered by lack of substantial new supplies from the Soviet Union as well as spare parts difficulties, appears to have dwindled in some items, such as tanks–a decline of 750–while she waits for deliveries from the West. Nevertheless, Egypt’s tank force still has 1930 heavy and light tanks.
HUGE BUDGETS FOR ARMS
All this build-up is reflected in the amount of money being devoted to defense by Middle East states, according to the report. Israel’s expenditure in 1976 is put at $4.27 billion out of an estimated Gross National Product of $12.6 billion. Although this was a slight gross increase over last year, the proportion of the GNP spent on defense–35.3 percent–was considerably lower than the 40.8 percent of the GNP in 1973.
Israel’s defense burden is, however, at least partially offset by her emergence as an arms exporter as well as purchaser. The report noted that she is listed as a primary supplier to no less than five Latin American countries–Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Egypt’s defense expenditure in 1976 was $4.36 billion. As a proportion of her GNP it had risen to 37 percent from 31 percent in 1973. This was the first time that the proportion of the GNP was greater than in Israel. Saudi Arabia’s 1976 defense bill was given in the report as $7.53 billion, compared with $9 billion in 1975, $6.7 billion in 1974 and $1.8 billion in 1973.